Thursday, July 26, 2012

Life Secrets: Beyond Reach?

A slight mutation in the matched nucleotides c...
A slight mutation in the matched nucleotides can lead to chromosomal aberrations and unintentional genetic rearrangement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Biology's Master Programmers
Since the mid-1980s Church has played a pioneering role in the development of DNA sequencing, helping—among his other achievements—to organize the Human Genome Project. To reach his office at Harvard Medical School, one enters a laboratory humming with many of the more than 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows over whom Church rules as director of the school's Center for Computational Genetics. ..... synthetic biology, an ambitious and radical approach to genetic engineering that attempts to create novel biological entities—everything from enzymes to cells and microbes—by combining the expertise of biology and engineering .... modify micro├Ârganisms to create new fuels and medical treatments. .... "It will change everything. People are going to live healthier a lot longer because of synthetic biology. You can count on it." ..... The very idea of synthetic biology is to purposefully engineer the DNA of living things so that they can accomplish tasks they don't carry out in nature. ...... a rapid drop in the cost of decoding and synthesizing DNA, combined with a vast increase in computer power and an influx into biology labs of engineers and computer scientists, has led to a fundamental change in how thoroughly and swiftly an organism's genetics can be modified. ..... we will be able to replace diseased tissues and organs by reprogramming cells to make new ones, create novel microbes that efficiently secrete fuels and other chemicals, and fashion DNA switches that turn on the right genes inside a patient's cells to prevent arteries from getting clogged. ..... The cost of both decoding DNA and synthesizing new DNA strands, he has calculated, is falling about five times as fast as computing power is increasing under Moore's Law ...... Up to now, it's proved stubbornly difficult to turn synthetic biology into a practical technology that can create products like cheap biofuels. Scientists have found that the "code of life" is far more complex and difficult to crack than anyone might have imagined a decade ago. What's more, while rewriting the code is easier than ever, getting it right isn't. ...... The idea, Church explains, is to sort through the variations to find "an occasional hopeful monster, just as evolution has done for millions of years." ..... no matter how elegantly compact the DNA code is, the biology it gives rise to is consistently more complex than anyone anticipated .... synthetic biology is genetic engineering on steroids ..... an expanding list of DNA circuits, including biosensors, oscillators, bacterial calculators, and similar molecular gadgetry ........ the claims that some synthetic-­biology companies made now appear to have been overly optimistic ...... Codon, in Church's words, was established to be the Intel of the bioengineering industry ...... Warp Drive, which was launched in January, employs fewer than a dozen full-time staffers and occupies only about 1,000 square feet of office and lab space in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But the startup, which has raised $125 million in investments ...... nature is particularly adept at creating chemicals that act safely and precisely on a desired biological target ...... "Nature seemed to have already engineered in complexities that drug chemists don't understand." ..... nature is still the best programmer.
A lot of people can't wrap their head around the fact that even biological processes are subject to engineering. It is not that different from metal engineering, just at a different scale.

It is like this friend of mine at high school. He just never could wrap his head round the fact that the earth was round. He wrote the right answer for exams and stuff. But he said, you know what, I just don't buy it. The earth feels flat to me, he said.
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